Our writers are (lovingly) foisting pop-culture favourites on their unsuspecting nippers. Here, Dotty Winters introduces her son to the cult ‘90s computer game.
I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination. I have never flung a bird at an angry pig, I do not crush candy and if anything my auto theft has been understated. However, at certain points in my life, a select handful of games have held a special place in my heart.
I learnt everything I have ever needed to know about PFI hospitals by playing Theme Hospital. I have mastered loading the dishwasher by playing Tetris and have, thus far, avoided death in a road traffic accident thanks to Frogger. Even now, when real life gets a bit hairy, I’ve been known to hang out with The Sims.
But one game stands above all others; a game so special that many of my high school friendship decisions were solely based on who had access to it: Lemmings.
This 1991 surprise hit gave players the task of preventing the suicide of hundreds of tiny depressive hamster impersonators. As the lemmings attempt to hurl themselves off cliffs, into fiery pits and under squishy machinery, you, the hero of the piece, make use of the lemmings’ limited skills to save their friends and family.
At six years old, my eldest doesn’t have much experience with computers, but I’m intrigued to see if he finds the game fast-paced, colourful or violent enough for his CBeebies-shaped tastes. Obviously, I can’t find out straight away. First I have to tell him he can play it “if he’s good” and use this as a bargaining chip for the next 12 hours or so.
When I do eventually introduce him to the game he asks where the lemmings are. I show him the shonky, pixilated graphic. “That’s a lemming?” he asks. I nod. “OK” he says. And we are off. Like everyone else initially he works out that the “nuke” button (which allows the lemmings to off themselves in a dramatic synchronised explosion) is pretty entertaining. Twenty minutes later, he is engrossed, talking encouragingly to the lemmings, clicking frantically at the slightly unresponsive lemmings and cheering as he completes each level. “Come on little lemmings,” he says. “Walk this way, you’ll be safe over here”.
It may be all about meerkats for today’s nippers but given the chance, a thoroughly modern six year old can get lost in the world of Lemmings. Simples. So lost in fact, I start to worry I may have created a computer-obsessed, oblivious-to-the-outside-world monster.
With the benefit of a bit of distance, Lemmings looks like a very different game. The model of wilfully misunderstanding the needs of the weak and putting them to work “for their own good” in a dangerous dystopian landscape seems strangely familiar. As I watch the six year-old enjoying the game, I secretly hope that the subversive satire is sinking in to ensure he doesn’t grow up a Tory. Then I decide that secretly hoping might not be enough. I switch off the computer and talk him through the basics of mental health and why it’s important that society supports those who need it most. I give him a quick run-down of the differences between left wing and right wing politics (I may have used the word “baddies” at one point). I drum into him an oft-repeated lecture about being kind to everyone and not excluding people who are different. He looks up at me with his big eyes, thinks for a moment and says:
“Mummy, can I go and play Lego?”
I let him.
Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.